An early morning walk is always good – however I must admit to a certain level of madness to be walking in the hills before dawn. The rewards are quite stunning.
My watch started vibrating right on 6.00 a.m. I was already awake, lying there waiting for it to go off. It’s important never to get out of bed before the alarm goes off, it’s a universal rule and as I will show, universal rules are not to be toyed with.
I turn the light on, stumble around the room, find the suitable attire that I’d carefully laid out the night before, brush teeth, beard and hair, throw some items into the backpack and head out the door by 6.10 a.m.
It is dark. The stars remain bright, overhead is Spica with Jupiter sitting next to it, well, at least in my sky, there’s really 550 light years between them. There’s also Antares, I mistook it for Mars as it’s red, next to it is Saturn. The sky to my east is starting to brighten as I head along the footpath through the middle of Halls Gap. My only company is the kangaroos and wallabies who are enjoying nibbling the grass without hordes of tourist hanging around trying to get close enough for a photo.
In a couple of minutes I have crossed the little village, moved beyond the football oval and begun the climb upwards towards Chatauqua Peak. It’s only a short walk, about 3½km. The track is a sandy white, it stands out in the pre-dawn light, however it’s dark away from the village lights, and before long my toes are hitting every rock and tree root, causing me to stumble. Last thing I need is to be rescued by the SES before I’m even out-of-town. Luckily a thousand years in the Scouts taught me to be prepared and I whip out my headlamp, remove my cap, attach said light to my head, slap my cap back on, turn on the light and continue upward.
As the blackness gives way to an eerie grey, the birds start to awaken, first kookaburras begin the morning with a solid round of laughter from all directions. Like a real laugh it seems contagious and in a few seconds I’m surrounded by the calls of the early birds. The currawongs aren’t far behind, their distinctive call bounces around the mountains. The magpies join in with their early morning warbling, like the kookaburras it seems contagious and soon there seems to be hundreds all speaking to each other. Throw in some ravens and lots of small wrens and we have an orchestra of morning song. However, nothing compares to the awaking of great flocks of cockatoos who begin their morning by screeching to each other. It’s like a 3 year olds birthday party, everyone wants to play with the new toys now and they’re all going to yell until they get their own way. Now that’s a sound that really bounces off the mountains.
I can’t tell now if my headlamp is getting dimmer, batteries running down, or the encroaching daylight means it’s less effective. As it’s now light enough to see, I turn it off and continue the trek and manage not to stumble so much. Still to early to be rescued, I’m still in mobile phone range.
As I ascend the sky to the east has a bright orange bubble in the middle of a grey sky, the west is still black. As far as I can see there are no clouds in the way. The stars don’t fade away, they simply wink out of existence, all the background stars disappear as the sky changes from black to grey as the light extends from east to west.
If I’ve timed my walk right, I should get to the rock hopping stage of the walk in fairly good light. I know I’ve been rushing a bit, sunrise waits for no person! As I get to the fork in the track, I pause to look eastward. The orange now extends across the eastern sky and I can pick where the sun is going to pop up. I’m a little worried as I think it might be behind Boronia Peak and I’ll miss day break.
I’m now on the final stretch, it’s 6.50 a.m., I’ve made good time and can slow down a little. This bit of the walk is along the ridgeline and there’s not a lot of space between me and the edge of the cliff. The light is good and I hop along the rocks with ease.
I reach the summit of Chatauqua Peak just after 7.00 a.m., I’ve got about 15 minutes before the sun rises above the horizon. I drag out my phone and fire up Sky Maps, I want to be sure I’ll have a clear view of the right point. I can see that Mercury has just risen on the map, alas, the sky is already way to bright for me to see it. I have a clear view of the horizon, a few low hills on the edge, but that won’t matter.
I eat an apple and wait. I mean, what else can you do while you wait for the universe to spin around?
I snap a couple of photos. The mountains to the west change colours from their nighttime muted tones to a soft orange colour, the trees that spill around their bases a dark green with spots of moving white as the cockatoos take flight. The eastern sky is blue with an increasing orange bulge in the middle. It’s 7.16 a.m. This is the time that has been allotted for our nearest star to put in an appearance. I know this, because I asked Google. It’s the only conversation I’ve had today. I said “Sunrise” she said “The sun will rise at 7.16 a.m. in Halls Gap” and went quiet, not much for small talk, either of us.
And there is the proof of the final universal adoption of Google as the holder of all information. A bright orange light appears on time and in the place that Google said it would. The little bit of the sun quickly turns into a huge ball of glowing orange, within moments it’s too bright to look at. The world is suddenly bathed in a fantastical hue (I’m trying to avoid using orange again), the high peaks behind me are bathed in a warm glow and this shows off the brilliant whites and reds and all the colours in between. Now with the sun fully risen I snap a few photos of the daily spectacular.
I have no idea what it is about sunsets and sunrises. They happen on a continuous basis, as the earth spins there is always one of each happening somewhere on the globe. Yet, every single one of them is unique. It is its own moment. This one feels richly deserved, I’ve climbed a mountain, well, a peak. Risked life and limb to reach the summit in time to see this daily event on a beautifully clear night that is then pursued by a beautifully clear day with a brilliant blue sky and a now white star marching across it. It is a moment of renewal, it reminds me of the daily grind of the world and how each day starts afresh with a world of possibilities. Today is a day for me to renew, refresh and start again.
I sit for 30 minutes enjoying the warmth of the morning sun, I can feel the temperature rising already, heading towards a top of 34°
Below me I can see the long shadows of the trees in the brown paddocks, reminding me that the seasons are turning and it won’t be long before summer ends. The sun is yet to reach the Fyans Valley in which Halls Gap sits, it’ll be another hour at least before it peaks over Boronia Peak.
I start my walk downward, within a couple of minutes I’ve dropped below the peak and into the shadow. It’s still cool here and I meander down to Halls Gap where coffee and breakfast calls.
My second conversation is “Good morning, I’ll have 2 eggs and 2 long blacks please”
“Morning, how would you like the eggs?”
Not one for small talk.
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